Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.

Recently, word reached me, via his daughter, that one of the regular readers of this blog (such people apparently exist) – I’ll call him “Tony” (on account of his name being Tony) – was greatly entertained when he followed one of the links on the left, in one of my interminable lists of mostly obsolete internet destinations to Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry.

I say greatly entertained.  The report was that Tony’s head exploded with fluids and splutters of all sort.  Basically, his face and mouth and throat all stopped functioning in their usual fashion and instead suffered a sort of biological combination of an earthquake and a meltdown and a volcanic eruption.

Following this report, I took another look at CMLIITC myself, and for a while, as I meandered through his archives, I was merely quite entertained.  But then I read this posting ...:

VIBRATING AB BELT CHANGED MY LIFE
I recently bought an All-Star Deluxe Ab Belt.  Three months ago I was a fat cunt. Now I’m a fat cunt with a vibrating belt.

… and the exact same thing started happening to me.  Until that moment I had not realised that I wasn’t fully well, but I found myself trying to laugh and cough at the same time, and the same disgusting fluids and substances started bursting out of my face as had burst from Tony’s face.

imageI think that, aside from its wit, it was the brevity of the posting that wrongfooted this.  Because of this brevity, the punch line sucker punched me in the face earlier than I had become used to and before I had in any way been able to surmise what it was going to be, as I surely would have been able to do if I had had longer to prepare my defence against it.  This is a regular comedic method, I think.

What Harry Hutton looks like now makes very good sense.

Monday January 30 2017

When I make my way, as I do from time to time, to Gramex (which is near to Waterloo) to get another fix of classical CDs, I tend to use the 507 single decker bus.

Many bus stops have become a lot more customer friendly in recent years by having electronic notice boards which say what buses are arriving, where they will go, and when they can be expected to arrive.  Very soothing, especially if you are not in the habit of tracking buses with your mobile, as many are, but not me.

My 507 bus stop sports no such signs, probably because the 507 is the only bus that stops there, and there will be another one soon because they are very frequent.

But inside these 507s, I am starting to see signs looking like this:

image

Again, very soothing.  You get to see progress.  You get to learn when you need to be making a move towards the door, if you are seated far away from the door, so you wont be barging past people in a hurry.  It all adds to the sense you have that buses are nicer to be on than they used to be.

Tragically, this afternoon, what one of these signs was saying was merely this:

image

Not even the one item of information it did still offer was right.  It was not 6.28pm, nowhere near.

But, I am anything but scornful about this little setback.  New kit needs the bugs worked out of it.  Things get tried out, and they go wrong.  The significant thing here is that these kinds of notices are being deployed, not that they don’t yet work as well as they should.

Here is an earlier posting I did about the bus stop signs, also with photos.  And that bus stop sign was malfunctioning also, hence that posting also, and that didn’t stop them pressing ahead with installing those signs either.  Quite right too.

Sunday January 29 2017

I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me.  (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:

The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes.  Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.

If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there.  In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA.  Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland!  You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe.  We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.

I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades.  We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.

LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.

Saturday January 28 2017

I am always banging on about my collection of photos, but my collection of books is also, in some cases, becoming a bit interesting.  Here, for instance, is a bit from a book that was published in 1980, by Peter Laurie, called The Micro Revolution. (pp.202-204)

Industrial predictions

At the time of writing (early 1979) the microprocessor was much discussed and many people were asking what it would do to industry and employment. My own ideas, for what they are worth, are presented here and there through this book; at this point it might be worth summarizing a study by the American management consultancy firm of Arthur D. Little Inc, which was carried out between 1976 and 1978, cost $2 million to perform and whose detailed results are available for $35,000 a copy.

The survey looked at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. It predicted that by 1987 - that is, in seven years time - the annual market for products incorporating microprocessors will be worth $30 thousand million. If computers are added. ‘It appears that by the end of the next decade every citizen of a developed country will spend an average of £100 a year on microprocessors.’

In more detail, the prediction was that American cars would be forced by strict legislation on pollution standards to install micros to control ignition and carburettion. In Europe, where people are less fussy, this development would lag. But in all countries, micros would be widely used for information and entertainment in the car.

It is predicted that the home market will be the largest, with something like 400 million intelligent units a year worth $50 each being sold in 1987.  Micros will be used in many different products - we have already talked about the entertainment-communications-computer unit which will look like a TV set with a computer added. There will also be all sorts of intelligent toys, kitchen gadgets, security systems, gardening devices.

In the office there will be a large sale for text processing, facsimile and copying machines, electronic telephones, dictating systems and communication processors. If the Post Offices provide data highways to match, this will result in the ‘virtual city’ described in chapter 9.

Industrial systems will be slower to incorporate micros (a) because they differ one from another and it is not easy to mass produce equipment for this market; and (b) because what is used has to be extremely reliable - and only time can prove that.

Arthur D. Little predicts that micros will generate 400,000 extra jobs in Europe in firms making, installing and servicing equipment incorporating them. It is inescapable that if microprocessors are widely used they will increase material wealth. However, they will also put a lot of people out of work, and there is no guarantee that these people will be easily, or indeed ever, retrained for new jobs. In fact the whole thing looks like producing considerable industrial dislocation; because along with the people who will not be needed there will go a tremendous shortage of people who are needed.  As early as 1979, my eighteen-year-old son, with only school computing and three months of work on microdevelopment behind him, was offered £300 a week to work in Holland. GEC said recently that they alone could employ every British electronics graduate. There is no doubt that over the next ten years anyone who can pass himself off as understanding the micro will be in great demand, and will be able to make large amounts of money in exploiting his talents.

For this decade at least there are going to be wonderful opportunities for intelligent and independent people. The classical example is young Wozniak who, in 1976, at the age of 21, with his friend Steve, set to work in his parents’ California garage to build a microcomputer. ‘I sold my calculator and Steve sold his van and we used the money to hire a printed circuit artist to layout the boards.’ In 1979 Wozniak, now 23, and the employer of 200 people was planning to ship $75 million worth of his APPLE computers.

Friday January 27 2017

Friday is my day for cats and other creatures, but it is also David Thompson’s day for more substsantial collections of all this weird and wonderful on the internet, and one ephemeron (ephemeros? ephemerum?) in his collection today is this:

Brutalist colouring book.  Because concrete needs colour.

I followed that link.

Quote:

Brutalism lovers, sharpen your cold grey and warm grey pencils and add some colour to some great concrete constructions. First edition of 500 hundred copies. Each copy is numbered.

Ooh.  First edition.  Numbered copies.  Very arty.  Sign of the times?  I want it to be.

I have long thought that the brutalities of brutalism could use a bit of softening, and actually, a lot of softening.  With colour.  Bring it on.

Someone who agreed with me, from way back was, actually, would you believe?: Le Corbusier.  He was into bright colours to soften the brutalities of his brutalism, from the getgo.

(See also: these colourful kittens.  No softening needed there, but it was done anyway.)

Thursday January 26 2017

Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”.  It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure.  Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays).  They just don’t have the Classics.

This was in connection with a show at the Vault Festival, at which a friend of mine is also performing, tonight.

Recently, I have been posting (for example here and here and there) photos that I took quite a while back, of scenes that are now different or in some way ephemeral, that fact often being noted in the postings themselves.

Here is another such:

image

This photo, taken in November 2003, is ephemeral in two ways.

First, there are men at work on the top of the Gherkin there.  The photo is not technically that good, if only because the camera wasn’t that good, and neither was the light on that particular day.  But, click to get it twice as big, and you will surely agree that men is definitely what we do see there.  Never before that day had I seen men at work on the top of the Gherkin, unless you count before it was finished (buildings still being built being another rich source of ephemera), and never have I seen this since that day.  It may be that these guys were in fact finishing the Gherkin, in some way that I don’t know about.  Whatever, there they are.

And the second ephemeral thing about this photo is that it dates from the time when the Gherkin stood in something approximating to splendid isolation.  The same shot taken from the same spot today (outside Liverpool Street Station) would surely contain a Cheesegrater at the very least, and probably several other Big Things.

Wednesday January 25 2017

At the end of the latest round of English Premier League football games (everyone has now played 22 games (out of 38, yes?)), the top six in the Premier League are, as of now, in order from the top: Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Man City, Man U.

When was the last time the top three Premier League spots were all London?  And when were both the Manchester clubs last outside the top four?  Well, maybe one or both of those things happened quite a few times very recently, but my point is, either very recently (as part of the same thing as is happening right now) or: never.  I’m guessing.  Corrective comments welcome.

Arsenal have recently built themselves a brand new stadium, and now Spurs and Chelsea are both doing the same.  Once all the confusions associated with the custom-built headquarters syndrome have calmed down, these erections will surely cement London’s Premier League supremacy.  Although it has to be said that Arsenal have perhaps punched below their new economic weight in recent seasons.

London is also, if you are a highly paid footballer, an ever more amusing and better connected place to live in, provided you can handle all the drama and excitement and combine that with continuing to be a good footballer.  Maybe Arsenal’s problem has been that their players haven’t coped with these pressures very well.  So. and contrary to my title and my earlier thoughts, will Chelsea and Spurs actually do less well once their new places are in place?

Tuesday January 24 2017

Why did Britain (and her allies) fight WW1?  Was Britain (were they) right to fight WW1?

Recently I had an email exchange with Patrick Crozier concerning World War 1, about which he knows a great deal.

Patrick to me:

The other day you suggested I write something on why Britain fought the First World War but I can’t quite remember what precisely the question was.

I suppose what I am asking is what question would you like to see addressed?

Me to Patrick:

I suppose there are two big questions.  And quite a few smaller ones.

(1) What did the Allies think they were fighting WW1 for?  What did they think the world would turn into, that was bad, that fighting the war and winning it would prevent?

This question divides into two parts: officialdom, and public opinion.  Officialdom clearly thought WW1 worth fighting, and they at least persuaded public opinion for the duration.  Did officialdom tell the truth about its real motives?  If so, was this persuasive?  If they told a different story for public consumption, ditto?

It is my understanding that the Blackadder Version of things, that it was all a futile waste of blood and treasure and that it achieved bugger all for anyone, only caught on in Britain the thirties, when the Communists got into their public stride following the Great Crash.  Before that, British public opinion both stayed steady during the war, and afterwards was glad it had won.  So, I guess there’s also a question about whether that’s right, and about the timing of the change, if and when it happened.

(2) What do YOU think the Allies actually accomplished?  In other words, were they right to fight the war, given their objectives? And were they right, given YOUR objectives?  Did winning WW1 actually make the world, in your judgement, a less bad place than it would have been if not fought, or, if fought, lost?

I note a confusion on my part between Britain and Britain plus all its allies.  I’m not sure which I am asking about.  Britain a lot, but actually all of them.

Underneath everything is a judgement, by the protagonists and by you, about what the Kaiser’s Germany was trying to do and would have tried to do in the event of victory, whether and to what extent it could have done it, and how bad that would have been.

Rather a lot of questions, I fear.  I suggest you start by answering the one of them that you feel you now can already answer with the most confidence.

Blackadder link added.  ("The poor old ostrich died for nothing.")

Patrick to me:

Wow, that’s a lot to be getting on with and it may require some research.

I promise to try to produce a decent answer to all that. Whether I succeed or not is another matter.

Me to Patrick:

PS Would you have any objection to me putting this exchange up at my personal blog?

Patrick to me:

Not at all.

My thanks to Patrick, both for the rather flattering exchange and for the permission to recycle it here.  I do not regard Patrick as in any way obligated to me or to anyone to answer these questions, and I put them here partly for that reason.  They strike me as interesting questions, whether he answers them or not.

No doubt others have answered such questions already, over the years.  Another way of putting my questions would simply be to say: and what did these answers, over the years, consist of?

It seems to be believed by almost all Europeans now that WW1 was a disaster, that it did no good whatever.  (WW2, in contrast, was a good war.  Germany by then had gone totally bad, and WW2 put a stop to that bad Germany, albeit at further huge cost.) But what if one of the alternatives to the WW1 that actually happened might have been even worse?  What if the disaster that was WW1 did actually accomplish something quite valuable?  I’m not arguing that this is actually the case.  I don’t know, and am simply asking.

Comments about these questions, or for that matter any proper comments, would be most welcome.

Monday January 23 2017

Here:

image

Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.

This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties.  They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES.  His sign would get about half the news coverage.  Drove them nuts.

Sunday January 22 2017

Classical music making is mostly museum curation.  Nothing wrong with that, because it is the best museum ever.  But that is what it mostly is.  Perhaps for this reason, it has long been speculated that classical music would soon stop being re-performed or re-recorded.  But there seems to be little sign of this happening.

Here, to illustrate the non-demise of classical music making, is a list of currently performing pianists.  It was rather hastily compiled.  Perhaps some of those listed have retired.  Some may even have died.  And there are surely many omissions, including, quite possibly, some major omissions, including, for instance people who I am assuming to be retired or dead who are nothing of the kind.

Also, there must be a huge number of Asian pianists who are very, very good, but who I have simply not noticed the existence of.  I live in London, and this list surely reflects that, both with its inclusions and its exclusions.

The number at the end of each clutch is simply me counting how many there are starting with each letter, thereby making it easier for me to count the total.  It came to: 175.

Depending on how you determine inclusion or exclusion, the list could be far longer.  I went for things like: Have I personally heard of them?  Have they done recent recording?  Are they hailed as good by classical music critics?  Do I personally like their playing?

I seriously doubt whether there have ever before been as many pianists roaming the earth, performing this amazing music, mostly by dead people.

So, here we go:

Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Dimitri Alexeev - Piotr Anderszewski - Leif Ove Andsnes - Nicholas Angelich - Martha Argerich - Vladimir Ashkenazy - Yulianna Avdeeva - (8)

Sergei Babayan - Andrea Bacchetti - Daniel Barenboim - Martin James Bartlett – Jean-Efflam-Bavouzet - Alessio Bax - Mark Bebbington - Markus Becker - Boris Berezovsky - Boris Berman - Michel Beroff - Kristian Bezuidenhout - Jonathan Biss - Christian Blackshaw - Rafal Blechacz - Frank Braley - Ronald Brautigam - Yefim Bronfman - Rudolf Buchbinder - Khatia Buniatishvili - (20)

Bertrand Chamayou - Frederic Chiu - Seong-Jin Cho - Arnaldo Cohen - Imogen Cooper - (5)

Alexandra Dariescu - Lise de la Salle - Jorg Demus - Jeremy Denk - Peter Donohoe - Barry Douglas - Danny Driver - Francois-Rene Duchable (8)

Severin von Eckardstein - Michael Endres - Karl Engel - (3)

Til Fellner - Vladimir Feltsman - Janina Fialkowska - Ingrid Fliter - David Fray - Nelson Freire - Benjamin Frith - (7)

Ivana Gavric - Alexander Gavrylyuk - Boris Giltberg - Havard Gimse - Bernd Glemser - Nelson Goerner - Anna Gourari - David Greilsammer - Helene Grimaud - Benjamin Grosvenor - Horacio Guitierrez - Francois-Frederic Guy - (12)

Marc-Andre Hamelin - Wolf Harden - Rustem Hayrouodinoff - Martin Helmchen - Angela Hewitt - Peter Hill - Ian Hobson - Stephen Hough - Leslie Howard - Ching-Yun Hu - Bruce Hungerford - (11)

Valentina Igoshina - Ivan Ilic - (2)

Peter Jablonski - Paul Jacobs - Ingrid Jakoby - Martin Jones - (3)

Cyprien Katsaris - Freddy Kempf - Kevin Kenner - Olga Kern - Evgeny Kissin - Mari Kodama - Pavel Kolesnikov - (7)

Piers Lane - Lang Lang - Dejan Lazic - Eric Le Sage - John Lenehan - Elizabeth Leonskaja - Igor Levit - Daniel Levy - Paul Lewis - Yundi Li - Jenny Lin - Jan Lisiecki - Valentina Lisitsa - Louis Lortie = Alexei Lubimov - Nikolai Lugansky - (16)

Joanna MacGregor - Alexander Madzar - Oleg Marshev - Denis Matsuev - Leon McCawley - Alexander Melnikov - Gabriela Montero - Joseph Moog - Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Olli Mustonen - (10)

Jon Nakamatsu - Eldar Nebolsin - Francesco Nikolosi - David Owen Norris - (4)

Noriko Ogawa - Garrick Ohlsson - Gerhard Oppitz - Christina Ortiz - Steven Osborne - Alice Sara Ott - (6)

Enrico Pace - Murray Perahia - Javier Perianes - Alfredo Perl - Maria Perrotta - Daniel-Ben Pienaar - Maria Joao Pires - Artur Pizarro - Jonathan Plowright - Awadagin Pratt - Menahem Pressler - Vassily Primakov - (12)

Beatrice Rana - James Rhodes - Pascal Roge - Alexander Romanovsky - Martin Roscoe - Michael Rudy - (6)

Fazil Say - Konstantin Scherbakov - Andras Schiff - Dimitris Sgouros - Howard Shelley - Grigory Sokolov - Andreas Staier - Kathryn Stott - Martin Stadtfeld - Yevgeny Sudbin - (10)

Alexandre Tharaud - Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Cedric Tiberghien - Sergio Tiempo - Geoffrey Tozer - Daniil Trifonov - Simon Trpceski - Noboyuki Tsujii - (9)

Mitsuko Uchida - Florian Uhlig - (2)

Nick Van Bloss - Denes Varjon - Stephan Vladar - Lars Vogt - Arcadi Volodos - (6)

Wiayin Wang - Yuja Wang - Ashley Wass - Llyr Williams - Ingolf Wunder - Klara Wurtz - (6)

Christian Zacharias - Krystian Zimmerman – (2)

That’s a lot of pianists.  All the major items of the piano repertoire have each received numerous recordings, and they each get performed somewhere on earth about every other day, and in the case of the popular piano concertos, several times a day.  It just refuses to stop.  The classical audience keeps aging, and then dying, only to be replaced by more aging people, who also then die, and so it goes on.

Real comments here are very rare, so all real comments on this would be very welcome.  But especially welcome would be comments informing me of major omissions to that list.

Saturday January 21 2017

I finally arrive at the official designated purpose of my Tottenham expedition back in November, which was to check out progress on the new stadium.

Here is what this was looking like.  Lots of cranes.  Lots of scaffolding.  And big signs on the perimeter fence celebrating glorious moments in Spurs history:

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2.1, in pleasing contrast to the masculinities of football and construction, a girly bus goes by.

3.2 features how the new stadium will look from above.

It will be entertaining to return in a couple of years time, to see how it all ends up looking.

In this report, you can see more pictures of progress, viewed from above.

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At present Spurs seem to be doing rather well.  Today, they drew with Man City, having been two goals adrift, which was a result, and they are in second place in the Premiership.

I had been expecting them to be doing rather badly just now, what with this new custom built headquarters being now under construction.

Friday January 20 2017

Today will be the forth consecutive day of clear skies over southern England.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the first two of these four days, I journeyed to East London, and today I plan to do the same.  (Yesterday, I just couldn’t make myself do this.  Instead I got a haircut.)

Living and working on my own, to my own schedule, creates problems as well as solving or abolishing them.  Being old, I basically have to get up as soon as I wake up, in order to squirt urine where it needs to go rather than where it doesn’t.  And, having woken up, getting to sleep again can then be difficult and time consuming.  Either I do this, eventually, which takes a big bite out of the beginning of my day.  Or, I stay awake, which means that by the early evening I will be asleep in my chair.  I am staying awake today, to make maximum use of all that sunlight which even now I can see outside.  But, if I leave my self-imposed blogging duties for today to the evening, I will find this very difficult.  This evening I will be both sleep-deprived and exhausted from my wanderings.  Also, I want to be at an event this evening.  So, I am blogging now, before journeying to East London.

It is for times like these that I collect photos that I just like into special directories, of photos that I just like.  Since today is Friday, my day for cats and other creatures, here is an other creature:

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A rather blurry photo, so no clicking for anything bigger there.  That’s it.  But click on this, of the sign under the elephant, if you want to read more about it:

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Having to get up every few hours when trying to sleep is a penalty of old age, but a better thing about being old right now is that the indiscriminate inquisitiveness of oldies like me is now more easily answered, without me having to pester any actual humans.  Getting old used to mean remaining permanently confused by more and more random stuff, but less so now I can just ask the www.  Time was when a photo like the one of this elephant in my archives would have remained for ever mysterious.  Now, I can learn all I want about to about it.

Here is a better elephant sculpture photo, which I found here

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But why is the union jack elephant a different shape to all the others?  I could find this out, probably.  But can I be bothered?  Do I care?  No.

Thursday January 19 2017

I took the photo with this marriage proposal in it in March of 2009, in Sheffield.  All I thought I was photoing was a footbridge (I like footbridges) with graffiti on it.  Did I even clock it was a marriage proposal?  Maybe, but if so, I immediately forgot about it.

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Click on that, and you actually get a different picture, which shows two footbridges rather than just the one, which means I prefer it.  Two footbridges on top of each other is a bit strange.

Pictures are hard to google, or hard if you are me.  Can you now say to Google: “Show me all the pictures you have like this one”?  Maybe you can, but I can’t.  But words I can do.  And I just typed “clare middleton i love you …” (helpfully, the graffitist supplied a name) and google immediately got what I was on about, and, well, here‘s the story:

One spring day in 2001 a tall man walked into Sheffield’s Park Hill flats and along a street in the sky. He strode past the brutalist flanks, out on to the footbridge. He thought: this’ll do.

Jason didn’t look down; he gets vertigo and he was 13 storeys up. He leaned over in his yellow Puffa jacket and sprayed her name. “Clare” came out haphazardly and “Middleton” hit the ledge. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. So now he began again, bigger, clearer: “I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME”. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. He scarpered. Seeing it, Grenville, one of the estate’s caretakers, said to the on-site office: “How are we going to get that off?”

They didn’t. The graffiti stayed, high above the city, while the city argued about what to do with the flats. Park Hill, the concrete estate behind the railway station, had become notorious. The city projected abandonment on to Park Hill, so the graffiti started to look like love yelling at the top of its voice in an estate thought to be desolate.

Soon it was also looking like PR. ...

It wasn’t a happy story, ever, and it had no happy ending.

Park Hill, Sheffield, is one of those famous bits of architecture that the architects go on and on about, but which the public hated, until such time as this public said to knock it all down, at which point it became clear that a different part of the public had grown quite fond of the thing.

One of the architects of Park Hill was a man called Ivor Smith, in whose office I worked, briefly, when I was trying to be an architect.  He was personally a hugely likeable man, with a delightful family who put up with me when I was at maximum unputupwithability.  But, his politics did not appeal to me, and those Park Hill buildings were all part of that.

Yes, I (by which I mean this blog) was away, from some time in the middle of last night to now, this morning just after 8am.  Every time this happens I probably lose about one reader (I don’t have many to lose), and I am very glad that this reader was not, this time, you.  I will do another proper posting today.

Tuesday January 17 2017

The trick with photography is knowing what to photo in the first place.  In particular, you need to be photoing things that are not going to be the same if you come back later.  Photoing captures the ephemeral, far better than it celebrates the eternal.  This being why people like photoing their kids.  Soon, they’ll be different.  But, a photo of Big Ben?  It’s been done.  A lot.  No point in another of those.

Or what about something else that changes, like the price of a piece of electronics?  I took this photo of such a price, in February 2005:

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I have helpfully picked out the price and photo-enhanced it, so you can read it without any clicking.  That’s a terrible photo, technically, but no other photo in that directory ("miscFeb05") is anywhere near as entertaining.

You can now get a telly that is the same shape and size as that one was, and presumably far better to look at, for one fifteenth of that price.

I love how it is reduced from £7,999.99.  So if you had bought it then, you’d have saved five hundred quid!  Now five hundred quid is the entire cost.  (Which you can now save by not buying it.)

Monday January 16 2017

Fox News reports:

Sustained gunfire rang out over central Tehran on Monday afternoon as anti-aircraft guns targeted what officials said was a drone flying over the Iranian capital.

Many residents ran to rooftops and craned their necks to see what was happening. Others sought shelter as bursts of machine gun fire echoed through the streets.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Tehran Governor Isa Farhadi as saying that the gunfire targeted a drone near restricted airspace in the capital.

It wasn’t clear who owned the drone, which he described as a quadcopter. That suggests it may have been operated by a local hobbyist or aerial photographer rather than a foreign government. The purpose of its flight also wasn’t clear.

The drone escaped - apparently intact - as Gen. Alireza Elhami, deputy chief of Iran air defense headquarters, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying the drone flew out of the restricted airspace once it came under fire.

This was not the first such recent incident.

I told you these things were going to cause a world of trouble.

How soon before there are pitched battles between squadrons of these amazing things?

Sunday January 15 2017

In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors.  And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.

Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000.  It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:

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The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.

But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were.  In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now.  And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory.  Thirty nine.  Thirty nine!!!

London has indeed changed, quite a bit.  But digital photography has been transformed.

Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose.  As were their children.  Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.

Saturday January 14 2017

Photoed by me, earlier this evening, in Leicester Square:

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Somebody gave me a leaflet, about this, while I was photoing.  Maybe this was what the demo was about.  Maybe not.

Friday January 13 2017

Sport yet again.  And yes, I’ve still got plenty to tell you, in January, about one of my favourite days out last year, which was on November 28th, which I have already written about five times already.  There was the shining moment described in this, and the three earlier moments linked to from there.  And there was this next shining moment.  And now there is the Spurs Shop, which looks like this:

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Not very exciting, I think you will agree.  But the stuff inside, the sort of stuff I have never ever seen before gathered together in one place, was, for me anyway, a remarkable sight:

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So, what do we see there?

1.1: is a cardboard model of the old Spurs stadium, the one they are about to trash and replace, yours for £30, but you have to construct it.

1.2: Spurs clothes.  Lots of Spurs clothes.  Plus big Spurs slogans.

1.3: Spurs cards to tell your associates that this is your room.  Really.  Very blurry.  Only realised that this was what they were just now.

1.4: Spurs mugs.  It says everything about the state of the Premier League that I looked at this photo, and read Kane as “Car Nay”, like he’s from Africa.  Alli, like Kane, also plays for England.

2.1: More Spurs mugs, this time with the tasteless cartoon cock, rather than the tasteful and elegant proper one.  AIA is an Asian insurance company.

2.2: Spurs clocks.

2.3: Spurs wall stickers and, click and look on the right, Spurs flags.

2.4: Spurs luxury rugs.  (And more Spurs clothes.)

3.1: Spurs luggage tags.  And I don’t know what those yellow striped things on the right are, if you click on that.  Some kind of Spurs bags, I think,

3.2: Spurs 5M retractable dog leads and Spurs dog collars.  For actual Spurs supporter dogs, I mean.  Not Spurs-supporter priests.

3.3: Spurs doormats and Spurs thermometers.  Like a lot of the stuff in these pictures, I only noticed the Spurs thermometers now.

3.4: Spurs tea towels and Spurs trays.

4.1: Spurs fridge magnet pens.

4.2: Spurs jelly babies and Spurs “snowies”.  (Learn more about snowies here.)

4.3: Spurs white teddy bears.

4.4: Spurs flipflops.

5.1: Spurs footballs.  So Spurs supporters actually play this game?

5.2: Spurs scarves.

5.3: Spurs sterling silver earrings.

5.4: Spurs iPhone cases.

Out in the open, there were also Spurs cranes, although there was no price tag on any of them:

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No, not really.  Not Spurs cranes for sale, just Spurs cranes working away on constructing the new Spurs stadium.

Thursday January 12 2017

Sticking with sport, this morning I followed, on Cricinfo, most of the run-chase in the Big Bash League game of the morning.  It happens in the morning over here.  Some of the games are even being shown here on free-to-view TV, on Channel 5, although C5 hasn’t been so lucky with the games it has so far shown, both having ended rather tamely.

But, the one this morning didn’t end tamely.  Oh no.  The Some-city-in-Australia Aggressively Rebellious Types (perhaps of the animal sort by perhaps human or naturally disastrous) scored 222-4, which is the biggest score for a team innings posted in the BBL, ever.  And the Some-other-city-in-Australia ARTs chased it down!  How amazing is that?  Very amazing.

Whenever I tune in to the BBL, I have a look for what English players are playing, by which I mean merely: have played for England.  I very much want my cricket-playing fellow countrymen to impress the cricket world,but as to which Australian city hosts the winning team, well, I really cannot make myself care, not matter how hard I try.  The Australian team with the more Anglos in it is the one I support.  This morning, only one Anglo was involved, Stuart Broad.

Broad’s side bowled first, and Broad took no wickets for 39, which under the circumstances was not that bad.  Not good, but not that bad.  In reply Broad’s team for quite a while looked like they might breeze it, without needing down-the-order Broad to be doing anything with the bat.  For as a long as a bloke called McDermott was batting, all was looking good for the Broad team.  But in the end, Broad, batting at number 10, had somehow to make nine runs off the last three balls.  He hit two fours and a one, to win it.

After Broad hit the second of his two fours, I yelled my appreciation, the only time I said anything out loud.  Then, Cricinfo told me that Broad had fluked this secomd four by snicking it, instead of connecting properly like he did with the first four.  And the final and winning one turned out to be a dodgy shot too.  But never mind.  Broad had done it.  Rule Britannia.  Go Blighty.  “Broad’s final flourish in record chase”, said the Cricinfo home page.  To me.  I assume that in Australia, Cricinfo was attracting clicks to that same report by mentioning McDermott, just like the actual report does, in its headline, thereby at least suggesting that the report was the same for everyone.

Someone needs to write a game-theory type paper about why multinational club teams eventually end up getting more, and more fervent, support than merely national teams, and I am sure that plenty of someones have, because of course this has been going on with the Premier League for quite a while.

All this happens not because partisan patriotism is abolished.  Rather does partisan patriotism fuel the eventual multi-national outcome.  Having a couple of your fellow countrymen on a team, if it keeps happening, may well turn you into a supporter of that team.  And they can work the same trick with other nations too, thus multiplying their support, and ability to sell goods adorned with the club’s heraldry.

Also, the management of the club can be first world, by the simple mechanism of holding the entire tournament in a first world country.  That means that each club is better than most nations.  And it all feeds on itself in a virtuous circle of enthusiastic sporting insanity, which ends up with everyone becoming citizens of the world.

Wednesday January 11 2017

This afternoon I read in the Evening Standard that Chelsea FC were hoping to get planning permission for a big new stadium, and sure enough, this evening, they got it.  I guess they’re all pretty happy there, what with Chelsea being top of the Premier League and all.  (Although, I can’t help mentioning their recent winning-streak ending loss by Spurs.)

Here’s how it is reckoned the new stadium will look (I found this picture here), from above, when it’s dark:

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The architects are Herzog de Meuron, the same firm that did the Tate Modern Extension.  And, they also did that amazing new opera house out in the estuary in Hamburg.  And hey, that opened today, according to that report.  Blog and learn.

But back to that Chelsea stadium, what strikes me, yet again, about this major eruption of architectural modernism is that while it is very modern, it is also very carefully crafted to fit the inevitably rather oddly shaped site.  Indeed, the architects make use of this odd shape to give their stadium its rather particular, asymmetrical shape, while nevertheless contriving an exact rectangle in the middle, in the manner required by the rules of football.  Form follows site plan.  That’s the way modern architecture is now done.

(It would seem that the exact same principle applied to the new Hamburg opera house also.  It was put on top of an “historic brick base”.  A brick base, I’m guessing, which was whatever shape it was, and could not be otherwise.)

And what also strikes me, yet again, is what a total nightmare it would have been to have attempted a design like this Chelsea stadium without computers to keep track of everything and handle all those asymmetrical shapes.

(The Hamburg opera house was plagued with delays and cost overruns and defects and took a famously long time to finish.  But that’s a different story.)

Tuesday January 10 2017

So, you like photoing photoers.  And you like photoing people wearing rock tour T-shirts.  So, obviously, you spend years rootling through your photo-archives, looking for photos of photographers wearing rock tour T-shirts, and then you find two, taken within the space of one hour, in September 2013.

There was this photo, celebrating this tour, ...:

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… and there was this photo, celebrating this tour:

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And, bonus, the Iron Maiden guy is a bald guy.

But, no, I wasn’t really looking for these photos.  I just found them.

Monday January 09 2017

Well, that FinTech meeting was disappointing.  I did learn a few things, and some general background.  But there was certainly no mention of denationalising anything, merely of running the nationalised industry that is money somewhat differently, and of a few computerised money-lenders getting in on it all.

However, rather more interestingly, mosaics are getting made in the same building where the meeting took place.  And there were a lot of mosaics on show, scattered about in the rooms and corridors under St John’s Church, in Waterloo Road.

I attempted photography.  The light was what you would expect in a basement, but this one, with a bit of help from my Photoshop clone, came out okay:

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I don’t know if that is a particular soldier or just a generic soldier, but either way it is skilfully done, I think.

It may be that someone will see this posting and object to this picture, in which case down it will come.  But I doubt it.

Sunday January 08 2017

Part of learning things is stuffing information into your brain.  But another equally important part is arranging and connecting and understanding all the information once it is inside your head.  And also: trying to understand why you stuffed all this particular information into your head in the first place.  What were you thinking?  What were you feeling?  Why the attraction to this particular information?

In those two latter respects, I found that the talk I gave last Friday at Christian Michel’s was particularly useful.  See here for a pre-report in what I talked about.  I didn’t read out everything in that posting last Friday, but I did read out all the questions in the email that I sent Christian before the meeting, in other words I read out the indented bit of that earlier posting.

As I went on to ramble about in that earlier posting, and as I also rambled about last Friday, I have been pondering the Modern Movement in Architecture ever since I was a teenager.  But last Friday evening I made some big steps forward in rearranging and organising how I think about it – and just as important how I have felt about it, what the attraction is, why I love it and love observing it and love photographing it, as much as I do.

In the word-processed file where this posting began life, there already follows the beginnings of a stream-of consciousness piece itemising a few of these steps forward.  But I don’t want to rush that out before it has been written properly.  In the meantime, I just want to assert my simple pleasure at what happened for me last Friday evening, without going into any detail.

Of particular value to me last Friday were some of the remarks from the floor, one in particular.  This told me nothing that I did not already know, by which I mean already agree with.  But what it did was place this particular observation into a different context.  Into a different part of my head, so to speak.  I found that particular moment especially helpful.

One obvious implication of my experience that I am willing to write about here immediately is that my happy experience last Friday made me very glad and proud that I also organise meetings at which others speak.  Like Christian Michel, I give my speakers a lot of latitude in what they will speak about, this being because I have long known that a major part of the point of getting people to speak about something is that it will cause them to make discoveries rather like the ones I made last Friday.  I often invite my speakers to speak about subjects they feel only partly on top of, which they are still getting to grips with, getting their heads round, getting their thinking straight about and their feelings clearer about.  I have long known that this is a valuable thing to do, for the speakers.  If the audience is a bit confused, so be it.

Well, I say that I have long known it.  Now, I really know it, with a great deal more certainty, derived from a great big gob of recent and enormously encouraging experience.

Saturday January 07 2017

This, says 6k, is going to be fun.

And it is already.  One of the rules of toys is that a good toy starts being fun straight away.  This one has certainly passed that test:

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That’s two 6k kids and two friends of theirs, all helpfully shielding their faces, which means I feel free to borrow it.

I have been tracking the spread of drones, and noting that most of them are in the service of those who command large spaces which they wish to photo.  Farmers and pop concert organisers, for example.  They are not commanded by those who command only tiny spaces and wish to photo other people’s spaces.  A privately owned drone, for me, in tightly packed London, in almost as tightly packed England, makes no sense, however tempted I sometimes feel to get one.

But South Africa (I was told about this last night by someone who had been there over Christmas) is a land of wide open spaces, and a privately owned drone makes sense there, provided only that you have the means to get into those wide open spaces.

I recently opined here that drones are not toys, and here, they aren’t.  But in big old Africa, they can be.

Friday January 06 2017

I did my talk, and it was well received, but now I am too knackered to offer anything here but a quota photo:

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Photoed by me on January 10th 2007, in other words ten years minus four days ago.

I like the contrast between the coloured lights, done with plastic bottles, and the monochrome surroundings.  I remember those lights, and photoing them.

My camera back then wasn’t that good in low light.  But it did okay for these photos, from which I picked the one I liked best.

Thursday January 05 2017

Nothing here today, but something there.  Another case of starting something for here, but putting it there, as was this.

Spent my evening getting my colour printer back in business.  Took me five minutes to find the on/off switch.

Wednesday January 04 2017

I’ve spent my day pondering my talk on Friday evening, so here, it’s quota photo time, four of them, taken last October:

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What we are looking at is the building activity now happening between Waterloo Station and the river, photoed from the Waterloo Station side.

I fear that this buildings are going to have looked prettier when being built than when built.

Hope I’m wrong.

Tuesday January 03 2017

Christian Michel hosts talks he calls 6/20 talks, because they happen on the 6th and the 20th of the month.  And this coming Friday, Jan 6th, I am giving a talk, about politics and aesthetics, and how they interact.

This is the email I sent to talk host Christian Michel, about what I will be saying, or more precisely, what I will be asking:

My talk will be about what we each think is the truth about politics, and about how that relates to what we each think is beautiful.

What are your political opinions?  What are your ideas of beauty?  How do these things relate to each other?

Are your political loyalties and beliefs the result of your already existing ideas about what is beautiful?  Did you arrive at your political views because you think that the political world you desire would be beautiful, as you already understood that?

Or, is it more the other way around?  Do your present ideas of what is beautiful result from what you have already decided is the political truth of things?  Would your politics lead to a world that looks a particular way, and do you therefore consider that world to be beautiful?

Or, for you, do the causal links go in both directions?  That certainly applies to me.

Or, do the above questions rather baffle you?  Because for you, what is politically true and what is beautiful are two entirely separate issues?  For many who, like me, call themselves libertarians, I should guess that this might be the answer, even though this is definitely not my answer.

I put my subject matter in the form of questions, because I hope that potential attenders will receive advance notice of these question, and that some attenders at least will arrive with their own answers.

I will supply introspected answers about my own political and aesthetic preferences and how they are related, a lot of them involving architecture.  But I hope I will speak briefly enough to leave plenty of time for others to offer their answers to my questions.  Or, of course, to say that the questions are silly, or whatever else they want to say about what I have said.

My current plan is to read out the above, and then illustrate it with some personal examples, and with some other examples that seem to be quite common, and commonly talked about.

My personal examples involve things like the extraordinary aesthetic appeal of American stuff, like their cars and their fighter jets, which got me thinking about why America actually worked better than the USSR, whose stuff seemed to be grey and dull and unglamorous by comparison.  That got me started towards being a libertarian, I think, way back in the 1950s.

In a related way, I then began to observe that British public sector architecture, which set the tone of the entire architectural scene in the sixties and seventies, had that same Soviet style drabness about it.  Modern architecture only became flash and glamorous, in the eighties.

All that, among other things, turned me into a libertarian.  And since then, I have tended to like the look of physical assemblages of objects that strike me as embodying liberty.  Skyscraper clusters and roof clutter being good examples.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be so fond of roof clutter in particular if I had more bossy tastes in politics, if you get my drift.

That’s a pretty simplified summary of some of my aesthetic-political thoughts-feelings.  But it suffices to illustrate the kind of thing I’ll be talking about.

As for similar stories told by others, I am struck by how an architectural style is often regarded as ugly, while it is advancing and hence seen as threatening, but later regarded with affection, once it has been defeated and is in retreat.  This happened with the New Brutalism, widely hated during its years of ascendancy, now only in the news because some now want its surviving edifices to be legally preserved.

On a huge, historic scale, this is what has happened with Norman castles.  Feared and hated when built, and for centuries after.  Now quaint and picturesque tourist traps.  Same kind of thing with big steam locomotives, at first feared and hated, now worshipped.

Many feel threatened by the very contemporary architecture that I personally like, and that’s because they see it, as do I, as embodying the very free market (-ish) ideas that I like, and that they dislike.  It’s more complicated than that.  But again, you get the idea.

My intention is to rattle through what I have to say quickly, to leave plenty of time for attenders to offer similar aesthetic-political memoirs of their own.

I’m putting this here so I can link to it in emails to potential attenders.  Emails work better when they are short, but when they can be lengthened, so to speak, by those reading.

If you want to know how to attend this talk, or other talks in the same series, email me (see here top left) or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with Christian Michel.

Monday January 02 2017

The party I hosted on New Year’s Eve was rather exclusive.  Nobody was actually forbidden entry.  But I was very late with the invites, and because I feared that so few would be attending, I actually told people that if they wanted a proper, noisy, standing room only do, rather than what actually happened, they ought to steer clear, and that meant that even fewer people came.  But it also took the pressure right off me, because whoever did come had been duly warned.  The fireworks that those still present at midnight looked at and photoed from my roof (see below) were a bit out of the ordinary, but I had not seen that coming and so did not make that a selling point.  Next time round, if there is a next time round.

But, I did have some fun conversations.  And in particular one that has just resulted in this posting at Samizdata, about Shipping Containers.  And about other Things.  Once again, I at first wrote all of this for here, but then transferred two thirds of it to there.

Sunday January 01 2017

I just did a multi-photo posting at Samizdata, with have a dozen photos all taken from my roof, which ended with a picture of the Houses of Parliament by day, and then two shots of the same thing last night, with added fireworks.  Happy New Year, and all that.  Again.

Here is another fireworks shot that I took last night that I particularly like:

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I like how each little sub-firework has only just got started and is a small bobble rather than shooting madly off in all directions, as you more usually see.

Another thing I can see from my roof is the Shard eccentric top:

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That was taken earlier in the year.  The Shard also was looking a bit dramatic last night, by which time the cranes that had been operating in the foreground of this particular view had departed:

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My usual excuse for my bad good photos is that a Real Photographer can go to the exact same spot and take the same shots properly.  But if any Real Photographers buzz on our front door and expect to get out onto our roof, well, that might not work.  Personally, I would allow it, on condition that I was permitted by the RP to photo him or her taking his or her photos.